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Teachers, parents, first responders address task force on Newtown shooting

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© Gun Violence Prevention and Child Safety Task Force held its final public hearing at Newtown High School. © Gun Violence Prevention and Child Safety Task Force held its final public hearing at Newtown High School.
© One of the groups speaking was March for Change, which is a "coalition of activists supporting the enactment of safer gun legislation," according to its website. © One of the groups speaking was March for Change, which is a "coalition of activists supporting the enactment of safer gun legislation," according to its website.
© Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs speaks to the legislative task force Wednesday night. © Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs speaks to the legislative task force Wednesday night.
© A volunteer ambulance worker and veteran speaks about gun control. © A volunteer ambulance worker and veteran speaks about gun control.
Line formed early outside Newtown High School Line formed early outside Newtown High School
NEWTOWN, CT (WFSB) -

Several people spoke about changes to gun control laws and more access to mental health services at a public hearing Wednesday night for the legislative task force set up following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Watch Live: Bipartisan task force holds public hearing in Newtown at 6 p.m.

The task force has already covered topics such as school security, gun control and mental health issues, and Wednesday night the task force will hear from those closest to the tragedy - Newtown residents.

That day, residents saw evil come into their quiet town, and now they will have a chance to be heard on how to potentially stop another tragic shooting.

All 52 members on the legislature's Gun Violence Prevention and Child Safety Task Force will listen to testimony from victims' families, first responders, local leaders and residents at Newtown High School.

The task force has been assigned to review current laws and make recommendations for new ones with the hope to have some bills ready by the end of next month.

About 84 people were scheduled to speak and lawmakers told speakers that they were limited to about three minutes each. The first speaker was Newtown's First Selectwoman Pat Llodra.

"I know there are no easy answers," she said.

Llodra said she is hoping that the meeting goes to the national level and brings changes to ownership of assault weapons and large capacity magazines.

"We got to get going on that right path," said Llodra, who received a standing ovation when she was done speaking.

Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe told lawmakers that police should be granted access to people's records when they have mental health problems.

He also asked for more funding for mental health providers and for people to have easier access to receive help when they are suffering from a mental health illness.

"Sacrifice is necessary and warranted," Kehoe said.

Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs suggested allowing police chiefs the broader ability to stop certain people from having pistol permits.

He, along with others, advised task force members to push for instant background checks for sales of ammunition and stronger laws for storage of firearms.

Several parents of Sandy Hook students spoke during the meeting.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, told the audience that "angry is a problem in society" and "rage leads to crime."

"Let's make this event the one that turns the tide in the world choosing love over anger," she said.

David Wheeler, father of Benjamin, set his sights on changing gun laws and gun culture in America. Of the three topics, this one took center stage in Newtown.

"It doesn't matter if they were purchased legally," Wheeler said. "What matters is that it was far too easy for another mentally unbalanced, suicidal person, who had violent obsessions to have easy access to unreasonably powerful weapons."

However, some speakers told the task force that banning assault weapons and large capacity magazines was not the answer.

"I don't wanna be outgunned in a situation that I cannot walk or run away from," said Michael Collins, who is a volunteer first responder.

The rabbi at the Adath Israel Congregation asked the task force to look at the big picture and not use a "Band-Aid" to address the problem.

Others such as Bill Sherlock, who lost his wife and Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary, said the underlying issue is mental health. He encouraged lawmakers to make sweeping changes to what they see as an outdated, ineffective system.

"The number of professionals have been cut while the amount of regulation has dramatically increased," Sherlock said. "This means more time doing paperwork and less time helping people."

One Newtown resident asked the task force to create a permanent board that would look at national trends on violence and develop strategies to address it.

"Let Connecticut be a leader," said Julia Wasserman, who is a former state representative.

Last week, members of the task force listened to testimony on improving school security. On Monday, 1,300 people signed up to testify at the public hearing on gun control, with speakers waiting for hours and going well into the early morning hours. On Tuesday they dealt with the issue of mental illness.

The mother of Dylan Hockley made an appeal to all parents.

"Legislation, science and technology only go so far. Other solutions are for us to undertake. You, me, every adult in this country," said Nicole Hockley, who is the victim's mother. "We need to teach our children these solutions as well. I'm talking about community."

Copyright 2013 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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